AL KABANI, Iraq -- For the first time in almost 10 years, the citizens here have clean water and constant electricity flowing into their homes, thanks to their local government, the Marines and their own hard work.
Muktar Ismael Hamaad, the village leader, and Thayer Hamdallah, the Iraqi government representative for the area, met July 25, 2004, with Lt. Col. Rod T. Arrington, the commander of 3rd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, to cut the ribbon on a water purification complex now serving three separate villages with a population totaling almost 3,000.
The reserve infantry battalion, based at nearby Camp Taqaddum, funded the $175,000 project through a program established by the now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority.
Thirty-five local Iraqis worked 10-hour days for more than a month to complete the 30,000 gallon-per-hour purifier, said Ahmed Abass Kassar, the project supervisor, through a translator.
Though it would have been quicker and cheaper for the Marines to install the equipment themselves, they wanted to let the Iraqis take the lead so they would come away with the experience needed to do such jobs.
"It isn't about just getting them the water in the best manner possible. It's about letting them do it themselves and giving them a stake in their own future," said Maj. Luke W. Kratky, the battalion's information operations officer.
The villagers have been without fresh water for a long time, said Kassar, who is also the water manager for the area.
"For the last eight or nine years they had no good water to drink," said 46-year-old Kassar.
Instead, they had to pump water directly from the nearby lake and boil it to try to make it clean enough to drink, said Hamaad, also speaking through a translator. This still left bacteria in the water and caused numerous health problems for the villagers.
"This project is the most important thing," said 28-year-old Hamdallah, who had sought funding for the project since he became the district manager for the area almost two years ago. "We are too thankful to U.S. forces for their help."
Under the government of Saddam Hussein, the villagers were afraid to seek help. The area the 500-person community occupies was once officer housing for an Iraqi military base. Though the Iraqi military had not used it for years, the residents were concerned that the government might throw them out of their homes if they asked for anything, said 36-year-old Hamaad.
After the ribbon cutting, Hamaad took the Marines on a tour of the village, to show them the recently installed plumbing that carries water to each of the houses, as well as a $22,000 Marine-funded generator that gives the residents reliable electricity 24 hours a day.
Before Iraqi contractors installed the generator, the village only had power for a few hours each day.
Word of the water project has already reached other communities in the area. They want the Marines to get contractors to run water pipes to them as well.
"The other towns feel jealous," said Hamaad.
The battalion, elements of which provide security for the 1st Force Service Support Group at nearby Camp Taqaddum, is waiting for Hamdallah to take bids from contractors able to perform the proposed work, so the Marines can attempt to meet the other villages' needs as they did for Al Kabani, said Kratky, a 33-year-old native of Fenton, Mo.
"We want to build on what we did there," said Kratky. "These are tangible things that the Iraqi people can see."